Travel: Sit back and relax

With economic downturns and natural disasters cycling throughout the news these days, it’s reassuring to know that spas the world over are still calming us down, from sea to street! 

The day before Hurricane Sandy smashed into New York City I stepped into the warm, rejuvenating waters at Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca (www.ancientbathsny.com). The dimly lit, subterranean world of thermal pools, reminiscent of a scene from Cleopatra’s era, brought welcome relief from the mounting tension of what we now know as “Frankenstorm.” 

This remarkable “bathhouse” is a miraculous feat of architecture, an urban spa hideaway that is a stunning reincarnation of the kind of Roman baths scattered throughout Spain, Italy, Switzerland and other hot spots where those seeking a healing escape flocked to long ago. Originally a turn-of-the-century textile factory, designers of this bathing palace transformed this underground space the size of a subway station into a 21st century urban spa. 

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Echoes of the ancient past are not an accident, as Sylvie Bennett, a manager, told me. Aire attempted to “recreate the classic bathing cure right down to the white towel toga guests find waiting for them in every locker.” 

The ode to the old bathhouses was apparent, as I could tell from experience. A few days prior to being stranded in New York I had visited the Bath-House of the Winds, one of only three public baths in Athens, Greece, operating during the 19th century, near the Roman Agora. It is now part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art in Athens. At the historic Bath-House of the Winds bathers journeyed slowly from changing rooms to warm rooms to the hotter rooms so as not to be exposed to extreme temperature variations. The heart of all public baths is their furnaces and the water cistern, and this concept still exists in many cultures. 

Taking the concept of healing, wellness and beauty to the next level is the Sha Wellness Clinic in the Mediterranean port city of Alicante, Spain (www.shawellnessclinic.com). 

Linking the past to the present, Sha operates on several levels, while offering a progressive menu of wellness solutions, from stress management to executive health. The ideal stay is two weeks while a medical team and therapeutic consultants adapt a health plan consistent with the needs of each guest. Sha Wellness symbolizes the latest in “medical spa” tourism for those who seek health care outside of the U.S. It starts with their cuisine, inspired by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, in which the spa takes a cue from his ancient advice, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine, your food.” 

Sha’s macrobiotic-inspired menu is flexible, enhanced by cooking lessons, yoga, tai-chi, medication and yes, “laughter therapy”! 

Healthy aging, as opposed to that dated phrase, “anti-aging,” is another program with solutions based on research from specialists from the spa’s scientific committee. International celebrities have been known to slip on a robe and sail through a wellness itinerary in protected privacy, therefore I will not reveal names of VIPs you might meet in the locker room. 

Whether it’s downtown Greece, Lower Manhattan or seaside Spain, one thing is for sure: The universal goal shared by spa-goers is to get away from it all while adding life to your years and years to your life. 

Pamela Price is the co-author of “Day Trips from Los Angeles.” 

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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